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New London's Chris Soto headed to D.C.

Chris Soto, the former state representative for New London, director of legislative affairs for Gov. Ned Lamont and director of innovation and partnerships with the state Department of Education, is moving to Washington, D.C., to work for the U.S. Department of Education.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who left his position as Connecticut's secretary of education after he was appointed by President Joe Biden, is bringing Soto into the fold as a member of his senior leadership team. The two worked closely on Connecticut's schools reopening plan.

"I was humbled when he asked. I had no expectations," Soto said. "I just bring it back to New London. My education career started here at the grassroots level, working student by student, family by family, and so to go from that and now be a member of the secretary's senior leadership team ... It's humbling."

Soto is the founder and former executive director of Higher Edge, a New London-based nonprofit that guides low-income and first-generation students into and through college. He was elected to two terms as a state representative for the 39th District before moving on to work in Lamont's office and later the state Department of Education. As a state representative, Soto served as the House vice-chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He has a bachelor's degree in operations research from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a master's degree in Public Affairs from Brown University.

In an interview with The Day on Wednesday, Soto repeatedly brought the conversation back to New London, saying he was grateful to the city for having "a community vision for education," specifically "having community-based organizations involved with student outcomes. That's what we did at Higher Edge."

"I could never have told you that when we started Higher Edge in 2011 that 10 years later I'd be working at the federal level," he said. "That's a good message for young people, that it doesn't stop when you're 18 or 22. I think that if you stay committed to your passion, opportunities open up."

Soto, who started in his new role last week, said his responsibilities are currently geared toward helping students in Puerto Rico get back to school this fall, one of Cardona's priorities.

"They've had hurricanes and earthquakes and COVID, so I'm laser-focused on supporting the education system in Puerto Rico and helping them do whatever they need to do to get students back in school," Soto said. "There's a myriad of issues that are not just educational issues. We have infrastructure issues, that's one of the biggest things. What I've really been impressed with is the resilience and everyone's collective energy to get it right, number one, and number two, the positive response that Puerto Rico has had from the administration and the secretary. I think it was a very different tone in the past."

He said he thrives in a project-based environment where he has an objective to meet.

State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, congratulated Soto on Facebook.

"I want to give a big congratulations to the new member of the White House Staff," Nolan said. "Chris Soto is now moving on up as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona. I am so happy to see my friend and brother take on his new role in Washington D.C. Thank you Chris for all you continue to do to make New London and the state of Connecticut shine."

Soto called his move to Washington "bittersweet."

"Even when I started working in Hartford and I joined the Lamont administration, I had no desire to move up there. This one is inevitable," he said. "My last two and a half years were invaluable to being able to now navigate this job. Having governor's office experience, having the state education agency experience, which is who the U.S. Department of Education interfaces with, is so valuable."

s.spinella@theday.com

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